AN environment chief told a public meeting that action was being taken to reduce the chance of flooding from extreme weather events like Storm Callum, but it was not possible to guarantee properties would keep the water out if it happened again.
Ruth Mullen, Carmarthenshire Council’s director of environment, set out some of the 55 actions being taken in the wake of last October’s storm, which dumped up to 20cms of rain in the Brecon Beacons and led to 168 houses and 62 businesses being flooded in the county.
She was speaking in Johnstown, on the outskirts of Carmarthen, where 19 properties were inundated between October 12 and 15 and several roads cut off.
The area has a history of flooding and residents said Welsh Water sewers frequently backed up and forced manhole covers up, and wanted to know what was being done to address the issue.
Ms Mullen said: “We know how distressing and how awful that experience of having your property flooded is.
“We are genuinely trying to reduce the impacts, and the likelihood.”
But she said the Storm Callum flooding was caused by several factors – not just the extreme rainfall – and that river and surface water levels rose much faster than predicted.
Five of the 15 actions being undertaken in Johnstown by the council, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Welsh Water have already been completed.
Carmarthen Town South councillor Gareth John, one of four local ward members who had called the meeting, asked: “Did everything in place work as it should?”
Ms Mullen said: “No, is the straight answer.”
She also said she couldn’t “hand on heart” guarantee that flooding would not happen in the event of another Storm Callum, even when all the actions were completed.
A Welsh Water representative said its staff could not get into the pumping station in Carmarthen during Storm Callum because it was flooded, while contractors working on behalf of the council had previously removed a section of flood defence embankment in Johnstown without apparently telling anyone.
One resident pointed the finger at Welsh Water, saying it had not suffered the budget cuts of the council and NRW and should be investing more in its infrastructure.
Carmarthen Town South councillor Alun Lenny said much of Johnstown was built on a “C2 zone” flood plain and that, in planning terms, any proposed new development in this area was a “strict no” under the new local development plan being prepared.
The July 29 meeting also heard that no water was released at Llyn Brianne, at the top of the River Towy, during the storm.
Carmarthenshire Council has been praised for its work before, during and after Storm Callum, and Ms Mullen said it has reclaimed £4.6 million it spent in the aftermath from the Welsh Government.
The Storm Callum report and recommendations were also approved by the council’s executive board on July 29.
Speaking at the board meeting, council leader Emlyn Dole was critical of NRW and said he would like the agency to explain what work it was doing.
“I declare publicly that I am disappointed with the response and the slowness of NRW, and their unwillingness sometimes to work with us on this,” he said.
“Our work is clear. We are keen to share it with them, and I’m keen to hear what they are doing.”